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Sunday, Jan. 14, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Time for F.A. to get serious and crack down on Chelsea's continual abuse of rules


LONDON -- The sound of laughter could be heard coming from Stamford Bridge this week when a Football Association disciplinary commission fined Chelsea captain John Terry £10,000 for lying and doubting the integrity of Graham Poll, the Premiership's leading referee.

Christopher Davies

That is roughly two-thirds of a day's wages for Terry.

At the same time Chelsea was fining Lassana Diarra £60,000 -- six weeks' wages -- after the midfielder was 40 minutes late for a team meeting and missed training on Monday.

After Terry was sent off at Tottenham in November he claimed Poll had told him two different reasons for his second yellow card.

Terry had said: "On the pitch Graham Poll said to me that it was for the barge on Hossam Ghaly. After the game he then said it was for the fall when me and Ledley King fell, so you know he's obviously had a look at it, or got people to have a look at it, and decided that's probably the best option for him as it covers every angle."

That is a scandalous piece of premeditated lying by the England captain, a position that should be above such unprofessional behavior.

In a carefully planned schedule and agenda by Terry's lawyers, 24 hours before the hearing, it was announced that he had admitted the charge of bringing the game into disrepute and would not be contesting the case.

This was an opportunity for the disciplinary commission to send out a message to everyone in English football at all levels that questioning the honesty of a referee will not be tolerated. To the surprise of nobody the commission blew its chance, handing Terry a loose change fine.

The public rebuke -- "we were extremely disappointed that the integrity of Graham Poll had been called into question and that no public apology had been forthcoming for his admitted improper conduct" would have hurt Terry as much as a feather landing on his foot.

F.A. chief executive Brian Barwick, who constantly claims Soho Square supports referees, should be charged with improper conduct for allowing his organization to let Chelsea once again get away with its trademark thuggery.

During the match at White Hart Lane, which Tottenham won 2-1, Ashley Cole accused Poll of saying Chelsea needed to be taught a lesson. A few days later, Chelsea put out a statement that Poll did not in fact say it needed to be taught a lesson.

What did the F.A. do to Cole?

Nothing.

Jose Mourinho launched into the sort of verbal assault on Poll that so many losing managers do in an effort to deflect blame for a defeat from themselves.

What did the F.A. do to Mourinho?

It wrote him a letter telling him he was a naughty boy, in effect doing nothing.

Poll reported that when he cautioned Michael Ballack, in the 66th minute, he was surrounded by a number of Chelsea players whom he believed were acting in a threatening manner.

F.A. disciplinary guidelines state that when a referee reports he was surrounded by three or more players from one Premiership team and felt threatened/intimidated/harassed, the club could be fined a maximum of £250,000.

What did the FA do?

Nothing.

It told Poll that no, you weren't threatened.

Latest score: Chelsea 4, The F.A. 0.

The message sent out by the slap across the wrist given to Terry is that it is almost acceptable to lie about a referee and question his integrity. It is worth taking such a fine looking at the bigger picture, which is that Chelsea does all it can to intimidate referees.

Chelsea's next big game was at Manchester United when Howard Webb failed to send off Didier Drogba for what should have been a red-card elbow in the direction of Nemanja Vidic.

Was it in the back of Webb's mind what had happened to Poll after he sent off a Chelsea player?

The previous week Charlton's Osei Sankota had been handed a two-game suspension for stopping Arsenal's Robin van Persie from having an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, giving the defender an extra match ban for a frivolous appeal.

Yet the refereeing fraternity agreed it was NOT the prevention of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and Sankota had every right to appeal.

So a player who should have been cautioned was given a two-game ban and another who should have been suspended was handed a £10,000 fine.

The saddest aspect of such injustices is that few people care.

Sankota is a low-profile player from a struggling club, while too many are wary of taking on the captain of the Premiership champion.

The F.A. can claim that the disciplinary commissions are independent and not an official F.A. body but that is playing with words and passing the buck.

As the guardians of the game the F.A. has the power to change its disciplinary set-up but has consistently failed to put in place a system that ensures more of a natural sense of justice.

Generally speaking, players are banned for acts of violence and fined for speaking out of turn. There comes a time when words can be as harmful in their own way as an errant elbow or a flying fist.

The England captain called the country's leading referee a liar and was fined £10,000.

As this column has reported in the past, the disciplinary commissions do not have to explain or justify their decisions, which is just as well from their point of view as they would be attempting to justify indefensible leniency.

DAVID BECKHAM has taken an early pension and will finish his career in the elephants graveyard that is Major League Soccer.

He has signed a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy, which must have been negotiated in a record time as the day before it was announced he would leave for the United States his agent said talks about a new contract with Real Madrid were ongoing.

The former England captain was, as every player who moves on "looking forward to the new challenge" -- though quite what the challenge of playing in a low standard league is remains to be seen.

Beckham is more sales than soccer, though what the rest of the world calls football is such a minority sport in the U.S it will be interesting to discover how much of a marketing tool he will be.

When the North American Soccer League brought Pele to the New York Cosmos in 1975 it was to sell football to a country where gridiron, baseball, basketball and ice hockey are the only sports that really matter.

The United States has made its mark at World Cup finals but domestically MLS is a pin-prick.

The deal is said to be worth £128 million but that should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Los Angeles is not a hotbed of sport in the USA. It does not have a National Football League franchise.

"He is truly the only individual who can build the bridge between soccer in America and the rest of the world," said Timothy Leiweke, president of the ownership group that operates the Galaxy.

But how?

Soccer in the States is generally self-contained with the clubs not playing in competitions such as the Champions League and the Copa America.

Good luck to Beckham, a player I have admired and a person I like. But we should not kid ourselves that he is going to be a pied piper for soccer in the USA.

There is still little money to be made as a top American soccer player, which is why so many play in Europe.

Beckham joins a Galaxy team that finished fifth in the six-team Western Division. Few in Europe will have heard of his teammates.

Beckham will be the biggest star in MLS, but that is still minor league compared with the Big Four established sports.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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